How a Letter of Recommendation Helps Your Job Search
You’re up against some stiff competition. This letter can give you an edge.
There’s no nice way to say it: You’re up against some stiff competition. Whether you’re looking for a new job, applying for admission to graduate school, or vying for a scholarship, you need to stand apart from the throngs of other candidates. One way to do that? A strong letter of recommendation.
What Is a Letter of Recommendation?
A letter of recommendation is a letter from a professional contact in your network—past or present—endorsing you for a job or position. This letter is a testament on behalf of the writer that you possess the necessary skills, positive demeanor, and potential to be successful in the role you’re seeking.
Why You Need a Job Recommendation Letter
When a company asks for a job recommendation letter, they’re looking for some trusted verification that you are in fact who you claim to be in your application.
The fewer chances and less risk employers take when hiring someone for a job, the better. Not only is hiring someone time-consuming, losing someone is also quite expensive. Gallup reports that the cost of replacing one employee is anywhere from one-half to two times that employee’s salary.
Similarly, if you’re applying for a scholarship or grad school, a letter of recommendation can shed light on your commitment and work ethic as a student, which will let the benefactor, school, or institution know that their investment in you will not go to waste.
Who Should Write a Letter of Recommendation?
Pick someone who knows you well and can speak to not only your qualifications, but also to your personality. The reason that’s so important? Companies and universities don’t just consider your skills—cultural fit is also a major determinant. You could be the most talented graphic designer in all the land, but if you’re not going to get along with your co-workers, chances are you won’t be in that job for very long.
Who better to vouch for your character and skills than a person who has worked (or currently works) with you and knows first-hand what it is that makes you so awesome?
Some examples of whom you could ask for a job recommendation letter:
Examples of whom you could ask for a recommendation letter for an academic position or internship:
- academic teacher/professor
- guidance counselor
- academic advisor
Another tip: Choose someone whose career path mirrors your own. For example, you wouldn’t ask Jane in accounts payable to write you a recommendation for a position in public relations. And if you’re pursuing an MBA, don’t ask your humanities professor to sing your praises.
What Should (and Should Not) Be Included in Your Letter
If you’re pursuing a particular position and have the job description or program description handy, use it to your advantage. Check out the requirements of the role and make sure you target them in your letter. For example, if a company is looking for someone who possesses great time-management skills, ask your letter-writer to talk about how adept you are at organizing your schedule and hitting deadlines.
The letter should also focus on your personality and character, whether that’s an example of your willingness to lend a hand to your co-workers at a moment’s notice or an example of how your impressive work ethic makes you such a reliable worker.
Some academic applications will give you explicit instructions for what your letter must address. For example, these guidelines from the University of Utah College of Nursing require the following for a scholarship letter of recommendation:
- Letter is from a reputable source who appears to be knowledgeable with regard to applicant’s leadership, service, or academic merit.
- Letter clearly explains and justifies the outstanding qualities of the applicant.
- Letter gives numerous examples of how/why applicant stands out.
Just as important as what to include is what to leave off a recommendation letter. Any generic language is a turn-off. The same goes for a letter that basically lists your job duties without offering any proof that you’re actually really good at performing those duties. (“John writes blog posts for the website, and sometimes social media posts”; “Jane prepares tax returns for our clients”).
Leave off: Jane has a great personality.
Instead: Jane has such a positive attitude, and it’s infectious—both clients and co-workers love working with her and routinely comment how at ease she makes them feel.
Leave off: John writes blog posts for the website.
Instead: John writes three note-perfect blog posts every day, which are prime drivers of our web traffic. He also consistently has the best story ideas out of anyone on his team.
How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation
There’s no magic trick: You just have to ask. And before you wring your hands and start sweating, know that managers, bosses, teachers, and the like are no strangers to being asked for recommendations. Not only that, but they’ll likely be more than happy to help you out.
That said, there are ways to make the process of asking less awkward for you:
- Be straightforward. Tell them you are required to submit a professional letter of recommendation with your application and you would be grateful if they could write you one.
- Provide information. Include the application details and a deadline to your writer.
- Include some talking points. Help your writer by pointing out some of your career highlights or positive personality traits.
- Offer to write the letter yourself. This is not as weird as it sounds and happens often. People are busy. You could suggest that you write the letter, send it to them, and if they agree with what you wrote, they could sign it.
Dear [name of hiring manager],
It is with great enthusiasm that I recommend Lee Jones for the position of head copyeditor at XYZ.com. I had the pleasure of managing Lee from [date range] when I was copy chief at ABC website.
Lee is exceptionally well versed in both the AP Style Guide and the Chicago Manual of Style, and can recite passages of the Elements of Style from memory. She works diligently and efficiently, has top-notch HTML and CMS skills, and has some of the sharpest eyes for not only grammar and punctuation, but also our ever-changing style guide. In fact, her co-workers frequently relied on her to proofread their work, and Lee always obliged with a smile.
Her affable personality would be an asset to a fast-paced work environment like your own. Lee knows how to encourage her team without putting additional pressure on them. On more than one occasion, I have seen Lee pull aside a co-worker who was having a bad day and give them a pep talk. She is an all-around team player who wants to see everyone hit their goals.
It’s a joy to be able to recommend Lee for your company. She will thrive, and you will be singing her praises before too long. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.
Content Director (formerly Copy Chief)
Once You Have a Recommendation Letter, Do This Next
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